For the most part, we don’t think of bending over backwards in a positive way. That is, unless we’re talking about yoga poses! And even then, backbends may not be your favorite thing to do. No matter how you feel about practicing backbends in yoga classes, the fact is they’re part of most sequences for a reason. Backbends have many benefits.
If backbends are not your favorite poses, you may be focusing on challenging backbends like wheel, camel, bow pose, and bridge pose. These are more challenging backbends, so if you approach them with ease and enjoy them, you’re fortunate. If not, you may want to work your way toward doing these poses comfortably by starting with “baby backbends” like cobra or modified versions of poses like camel.
The Benefits of Backbends in Yoga
Any experience that teaches us to bend without breaking has benefits. Backbends in yoga fit the bill. Physical benefits of backbends include lengthening the spine and helping blood flow more easily throughout the body.
With a more mobile spine, your posture will improve as well. Good posture makes it easier to breathe, which also helps move oxygen throughout the body. If you don’t know why moving oxygen around is important, think of it as your life force. Yogis think of good circulation as moving the life force—called chi—with more ease.
Backbends are also great for you if you tend to slump a lot. And let’s be honest, most of us do slump or round our shoulders more often than we’d like. If you work at a desk or spend a lot of time on your phone (just to name the most common examples), you’re probably rounding your shoulders a lot. Backbends counteract this habit.
Backbends are also heart openers. The physical act of putting your heart forward (or opening your heart) has emotional benefits as well. With an open heart, you can interact with people from a place of love and authenticity instead of from a place of fear and insecurity.
Practicing Backbends Safely
Since bending backwards is probably not something you do on a regular basis, it’s important to warm up before you practice backbends in yoga. For this reason, you’ll rarely do backbends at the beginning of a yoga class.
Warmups like cat/cow, twists, and other poses that move the spine in all directions are essential to prepare to do safe backbends.
When do practice backbends, don’t let your back do all the work! The idea is to engage the quads, glutes, and core to help your back bend more easily. If you’re doing a pose like wheel or bridge, you’ll need to work your shoulders and the front of your chest as well.
Also, be sure to lengthen your tailbone to protect your lower back when you practice backbends in yoga. In poses like camel, move your head, not the neck, back. The movement should be from the sternum. The same is true when you do “baby” backbends like cobra.
Are backbends among your most favorite or most dreaded poses? If you didn’t love them before, remember to work your way toward experiencing backbends in a more positive way.